The City of Newport Beach on Wednesday offered to settle its legal fight against expansion of John Wayne Airport by accepting the recent expansion to 55 daily flights, but the Board of Supervisors rejected the offer during a closed-door session.
The confidential settlement offer was authorized by the City Council Tuesday, and while county officials rejected it, the offer appears to open the door to an eventual out-of-court settlement in the longstanding airport dispute.
Spokesmen for the city, which has neighborhoods directly beneath the flight path of John Wayne, and the county, which manages the airport, said they are optimistic that discussions during the next several weeks could resolve many of the largest issues involved in the courtroom fight over airport expansion.
While neither side would disclose details of the settlement offer officially, Newport Beach reportedly offered to accept 55 flights at the airport--in accordance with the April 1 increase from 41 daily jet flights--if the county agrees to pursue any remaining legal issues in state court, rather than federal court.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday April 13, 1985 Orange County Edition Metro Part 2 Page 3 Column 2 Metro Desk 2 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
A story in Thursday's Orange County edition reported that the Federal Aviation Administration has reduced on a trial basis the minimum separation between jets approaching Los Angeles International Airport for radar-controlled landings to 2 1/2 miles. The FAA earlier this month returned to the usual 3-mile requirement.
City officials were surprised and irritated last month when the county foreclosed their options for filing a Superior Court lawsuit against the airport expansion plan by filing a suit of its own in federal court.
County officials, who included several airlines, an aircraft manufacturer and the Federal Aviation Administration in their suit, said the federal court would provide the best single forum for resolving the myriad of legal issues standing in the way of airport expansion. But officials from Newport Beach contend they can get a better hearing on their environmental concerns in state court, under state environmental laws.
Their offer would have allowed the city to proceed in that forum, while protecting the county's right to implement at least a limited expansion of 55 flights.
Worried About Next Phase
City officials say their biggest fears are over the second phase of expansion, which would permit 73 flights following construction of a large new terminal building. While the airport master plan calls for a ceiling of 73 flights, city officials say the new terminal could eventually accommodate many more departures.
Newport Beach's special airport counsel, Steven Pflaum, characterized the offer as a "mini-settlement overture."
"I hope there's still a possibility the city and county will continue to talk. We'd like to settle if we can get what we need to protect our interests," he said. "At the moment, I don't think the city has plans to put anything on the table. The county has said they're thinking of something, and we're waiting for them to propose something."
Because state law requires settlement conferences in lawsuits over the California Environmental Quality Act, county officials have scheduled a conference for April 25.
Deputy County Counsel Dan Didier said the rejection of Newport Beach's offer "doesn't foreclose any further settlement discussions. The board and counsel are hoping there may be some mutually acceptable compromise to fully terminate all the litigation, and we're working toward that end."
Members of the Board of Supervisors and the City Council appeared open to settlement negotiations, but neither side was making any commitments.
"I would think that if we could reach a settlement that was fair and acceptable, it would be great. But I would hasten to say that if the settlement was not one that was acceptable to the people who we're paying a lot of money to advise us, (it) in all particulars would probably not gain favor with the board," said supervisors' Chairman Thomas F. Riley, whose district includes the airport.
"Certainly, one would have to applaud the fact that at least the effort has been made to at least discuss this effort," Riley added.
Supervisor Roger Stanton said, "The county is always willing and open to discussions with the city if things can be settled amicably."
Both supervisors declined to discuss why the offer was rejected, except to say that county attorneys recommended the action.
55-Flight Lid Sought
Newport Beach Councilwoman Evelyn Hart said she primarily is seeking a limit of 55 flights and a firm commitment from the county to seek an alternative airport site. "I worked desperately for months for that (before the county adopted the new master plan), and there may not be any way at all to arrive at that conclusion, but that is the thing I would personally be working toward," she said.
The city's attorneys, in addition, felt it was important to take the lawsuit out of federal court, Hart added.
In the meantime, city officials plan to file a countersuit today in federal court to guard against running out the statute of limitations for filing suits. (The city was prevented from filing suit in state court when U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter Jr. last month issued a preliminary injunction against the city.)
The city also will ask Superior Court Judge Philip Schwab to amend a 1982 ruling by former Judge Bruce Sumner, which rejected an earlier airport expansion plan, to specifically require that the new expansion plan be resubmitted to the Superior Court for review. Schwab, at the city's request, has set an April 19 hearing to determine whether the county was in contempt of Sumner's ruling by proceeding with the expansion plan without further court review.